As the last participants in the conclave that will elect a new pope arrived this week, they were the target of a continuing campaign to persuade the electors in the College of Cardinals that Pope John Paul I had proved to a poor administrator during his 34-day reign.

The purpose of the campaign is apparently not to blacken John Paul's name but to try to overcome the traditional resistance of the cardinals in their far-flung dioceses to electing as pope a fellow cardinal who is part of the church's central government at the Vatican, the Roman Curia.

Of the 126 cardinals, 34 are members of the Curia. Only the 111 cardinals who are under 80 years of age may vote for a new pope in the conclave that opens today.

The highly conservative Cardinal Giuseppe Siri of Genoa, 72, who is understood to have been the front-runner in the first of the four votes taken by the conclave in August, called for a "more thoughtful conclave" this time. Well-informed European publications have credited him with 25 votes in the first round against 23 for Cardinal Albino Luciani of Venice, the eventual winner of the fourth ballot.

Siri's age and conservatism seem to make him an unlikely choice this time also, despite some strong expressions of backing for him.

Cardinal Joseph Hoeffner of Cologne, speaking of John Paul's image as a successful preacher, said. "It is necessary to seek again a shepherd of souls, but with greater managerial experience.

In an interview in the Vatican's Sunday newspaper, Cardinal Carlo Confalonieri, 85, dean of the Sacred College of Cardinals and the deliverer of the eulogies for both John Paul and his predecessor Pope Paul VI, said that the pastoral qualities John Paul displayed are fundamental but that there also must be other considerations. He listed them as:

Lively intelligence

Theological knowledge


Understanding of international problems.

Experience as a diplomat.

In the context of the kind of criticsim heard around Rome of John Paul's brief reign. Confalonieri's list was clearly not just the criteria for the new pope, but also a listing of the shortcomings perceived in the old one.

That kind of talk used to go on in private whispers around the Vatican. It is probably a measure of the impact of the openness that John Paul brought to the papacy that at least a fraction of the real debate is being conducted in public.

Such public position-taking by the princes of the church has led inevitably to open debate in the press. The respected newspaper La Stampa of Turin headlined, "A Pastor Like Luciani Is Sought, But One Who Can Also Administer."

in the hands of papers like La Stampa, such debate is probably not shocking to church traditionalists, but some of the coverage by the nonestablishment press seems likely to cause enough shudders to enable the advocates of ecclesiastical discretion to regain some of their lost ground.

The far leftist satirical weekly II Male (The Evil), printed a front-page cartoon suggesting both that John Paul was simplistic and that he was murdered. The cartoon showed Cardinal Giovanni Benelli of Florence leering malevolently and pouring a vial of poison into a cup of tea. In the background, stretched out in bed, was John Paul reading a popular Roman anticlerical poet. Inside the magazine, he was depicted reading a Mickey Mouse comic book.

There have been a number of articles in serious press organs, even those that called for an autopsy to dispel any doubts about the cause of John Paul's death, denouncing the Italian tendency to see plots everywhere. It is a propensity that was well-nurtured during the centuries when government, church and civil, really was conducted largely by plot and intrigue. But hardly anyone who is respected has suggested that he thinks John Paul died anything but a natural death.

It is ironic yet understandable that the lofist publication should have focused on Benelli as John Paul's cartoon murderer. It was Benelli who engineered Luciani's election, and unlike many of his colleagues, he has had nothing but kind words for the late pope. But Benelli, who has been out in the field as head of a large diocese for only about a year, is also seen as the acrhetype Curia cardinal.

In his last years, Pope Paul VI was old and feeble and frequently ill. The daily administration of affairs should have fallen to his secretary of state, the Vatican's equivalent of a prime minister, Cardinal Jean Villot. But the French cardinal is not generally regarded as an effective manager. The real administrator of the church was his deputy, Benelli.

The logic of the situation has led many observers to conclude that Benelli the pope-maker is the front-runner to succeed the man for whom he created a majority in the Sacred College of Cardinals. At 57, Benelli is vigorous and relatively young. The Cardinals have become sensitized to the question of health by the briefness of John Paul's rule. He is also one of the new Italian cardinal archbishops who have had both major administrative and pastoral responsibilities.

But, as the effective head of the church, he inevitably created resentments among some of his fellow cardinals. And for those cardinals who may indeed consider that John Paul was, on reflection, not the right choice, Benelli seems bound to be burdened with a large measure of the responsibility.

For the first time, Curia cardinals are appearing on serious lists of papabili , the Italian word for possible popes. Curia men are being quoted to the effect that, after all, every high churchman has also been a pastor during his career.

Two Curia names are often mentioned. One is Cardinal Pericle Felici, 67, a distinguished theologian who likes to crack jokes in Latin.But, as secretary general of the Vatican II Council, he made enemies because of his conservatism. The other is Sebastiano Baggio, 65, former bishop of Cagliari in Sardinia and a man with broad diplomatic experience in Latin America.

If Benelli nevertheless appears from the outside to be the likeliest front-runner, the Vaticanologists are being very cautious in their predictions in line with the newly refurbished Vatican dictum. "He who goes into the conclave a pope emerges a cardinal."

Only one Italian newspaper seriously suggested that Luciani might become pope, and that was only in a list with other papabili .

Luciani's smiling countenance was a refreshing change of pace for many of the faithful, and the obvious craving of Catholics for a less intellectually distant pope than Paul Vi is expected to influence the choice.

A Communist spoke of the left-handed compliments he overheard among his party's leaders after John Paul died. The Communist said he saw a knot of leaders nod in agreement when one of them said, "The Holy Spirit was good to our party.With that populism of his that pope would have caused us a lot of trouble."